While I grew up, came to faith, and entered ministry in a tradition that doesn't emphasize one-on-one discipleship, or even mentoring and coaching to any significant degree, I have nonetheless been the beneficiary of a great many people who have contributed to my life and ministry in priceless ways. I thought I'd take just a few minutes to reflect on them, and encourage others to maybe purposely pursue one or more of these kinds of relationships:
This category is certainly too long to do justice to, but, in addition to the primary influences of my parents and brothers, I would have to list Mrs. Reed (my children's church leader), George Krider and Norm Murdoch (Sunday School teachers), and Major and Mrs. Bender (pastors) as perhaps the most influential people of my childhood and early teens. Following them were the lovely Robin and her parents when they became my corps officers (pastors), and Larry Phillips (schoolteacher), in my mid-teens. More distant but still influential were Henry David Thoreau, William Booth, Samuel Logan Brengle, and preachers Tom Hermiz and Tom Skinner (and, more recently, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, Phyllis Tickle, Richard Foster, and many more). I guess mention should also be made of my oldest brother Don, who because he forced me to play an instrument also forced me to learn to read (and maybe love) music.
Many of the influencers, above, could also be listed as examples--and vice versa--but some of the examples I watched and learn from throughout my life have been Salvation Army greathearts Major Ralph Michaels, Colonel Damon Rader, and others, along with the strongest example of my life (before I met my wife), my mom, Millie (Foster) Hostetler (right), whose example long outlives her.
This is a pretty select group, as I never had the guidance or the wisdom to seek out mentors. But as a young Christian, I remember Major Ralph Joyce taking an interest in me and my friend Ted. He would occasionally pick us up for a concert or a new church experience, exposing us to a broader spectrum of spirituality than we would have otherwise known. I'll always be grateful for that. I also credit my father-in-law, Dick Wright, as a mentor--if you can call thrusting a baritone in my hand and telling me I'd better practice because I'm playing in the band Sunday, or drafting me to do tavern route with a few minutes of preparation as mentoring. But, hey, it worked, I guess, so it counts. Oh, and you know who else? I don't even remember his name, but the person who led the Metro-Aires in St. Louis in 1971-72 and cast me as "Murph" in the musical, Natural High. That was a bright spot in an otherwise traumatic year, and one that probably taught me more than I've ever stopped to realize.
I think I've had one coach in my life (other than little league and softball), and he was very generous to me. Steve Sjogren (left), the founding pastor of Cincinnati's Vineyard Community Church, met with me and my copastor, John Johnson, for three or four years, and helped us tremendously as pastors and church planters in the early years of Cobblestone Community Church.
My first accountability partner was Mike Erre (right), who was then youth pastor at the church I attended. Mike approached me. I'd never had an accountability partner before, and had no idea how to do this thing. But that relationship became valuable, and accountability has since became indispensable to me. Mike has now become big and famous, teaching pastor at Rock Harbor Community Church in California, and a big fancy author. But I knew him when. Unfortunately, he knew me, too.
When Mike sailed off to seminary, I entered into something like a five-year accountability relationship with Jon Montani, who was used by God in my life as a friend and as a ministry partner. After Jon, I met for a couple years with Ted Slye, who then also moved away. Now, I'm in the early stages of a new accountability relationship with my friend Tim Sheehan, a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in Cincinnati, and hope also to meet as often as possible with Bill Riley, a longtime close friend and pastor in Russell Point, Ohio. When you're as sinful as I am, two accountability partners can't hurt.
Fifteen or so years ago, I was so unhappy with and defeated in my prayer life, I enlisted my friend Marlin Strand (who lived just a block away) as a prayer partner. I convinced Marlin to show up every weekday morning at my door at 7:00, and not to tell me when he couldn't make it. We would pray together for a half hour each day, and on those mornings he didn't show up, I was up anyway, so went ahead and prayed without him. It did the trick. He supplied the discipline I lacked to get up every morning for prayer. When Marlin moved away, I drafted Jim Williams (left, though he never looked that good at 7 a.m., I can tell you that), who prayed regularly with me for a few years....until he moved away (why do people always move away? Is it something about ME? Don't answer that). In the past few years, I haven't had a prayer partner, but that's okay, as my prayer habits have changed significantly, and I am in a sustainable rhythm that keeps ME going rather than ME keeping IT going.
A few years ago, soon after starting Cobblestone Community Church, I sought out a nearby professional counselor, Kent Ernsting, in Mason, Ohio. When I sat down with him the first time, he asked, "Why are you here?" I explained, "I'm not in a crisis, and I'm not even sure what I need to talk about at the moment; but I'm a pastor, and I know there will come a time when I need a counselor....so I figured I'd better start now, so you're there when I need you." He blinked and smiled, and said, "That's the first time anyone's ever said that." But boy, it wasn't long before I was VERY glad I'd done that.
I met with him for a couple years, then (because I have this thing about driving long distances on my day off) started meeting with Dr. Stephen Boyd in Oxford, a counselor and spiritual director. Dr. Boyd has been extremely helpful to me, particularly through an excruciatingly stressful and difficult couple years. Honestly, I don't know if I would have survived the past few years without his help.
From time to time as a writer I would enlist prayer teams for a specific project or speaking engagement. But lately, a team of ongoing prayer warriors have been enlisted to pray for me and the other Cobblestone pastors on a daily basis. This kind of support is priceless to me, honest to goodness. I hope never ever again to be without it.
Fortunately, my closest relationships--my awesome wife and incredible children...and now, also, my wonderful daughter-in-law and son-in-law--are tremendously healthy and valuable to me. I don't know how I would function without the counsel and support of the lovely Robin, and increasingly in recent years, my adult children. In fact, overriding all these helpful relationships is the inestimable influence Robin has had on me. She has been "all the above"--influence, example, mentor, coach, accountability partner, prayer partner, and counselor. She has molded and shaped the man I am today to such an extent that I shudder to think what I would have been without her.
So how about you? Who have been your influences, examples, mentors, coaches, accountability partners, prayer partners, and counselors? And which of these do you find most valuable? And what other relationships have been important to your life and ministry?